Bloodshed, not symposium, will get message across

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

Good news. Another symposium on violence in hockey is going to be held.

That ought to do a lot of good.

The goal in all this is to get rid of fighting in hockey.

The anti-fighting faction is using the death of player Don Sanderson and a couple of other nasty results from hockey fights as a pulpit to get it eliminated from the game.

It would be terrific if they accomplished their goal.

But it won't be a symposium or public pressure that gets hockey to do the right thing.

It will take one more nasty, ugly incident, another serious injury or another death to drive home the point that fighting no longer needs to be a component of hockey.

Make no mistake, fighting is teetering on the brink of extinction. There's a growing recognition that it serves no purpose. Fighters exist because fighting exists. Well-known pugilists are speaking out about the uselessness of fighting in this day and age.

Another fighting meltdown and the only people left defending it will be hard-core observers who prefer a fight to a hockey game anyway.

But arguments won't sway the day. Has anyone heard anything new that would be convincing enough to change people's minds on either side?

The death of Sanderson changed some minds. As did the ugly picture of Philadelphia Phantoms forward Garrett Klotz fighting and then suffering a seizure as he collapsed along the boards.

Don't hold your breath for the NHL to be pro-active. Just listen to commissioner Gary Bettman during the all-star weekend: "I don't think there's any appetite to abolish fighting from the game."

Huh?

Don't know where he's been the past few years?

What Bettman should have said is there's a select group of hockey people in charge who like watching people punching each other for its entertainment value.

Please don't talk about this supposed "code." What a lame excuse to keep fighting in.

The manly code is supposed to prevent teams from targeting good players. It's also supposed to punish players for doing something wrong.

This code has been so corrupted it means nothing. Now a fight is entertainment, two goons slugging it out. A fight is used to change the momentum. If another player happens to hit a player with a clean, solid, legal check, you can rest assured he'll have to pay for it by having to fight.

Good, clean hits are no longer part of the game, but fighting is. Go figure.

This code is hardly manly. It's more infantile.

Bettman also said the league would focus instead on peripheral issues related to fighting safety. Bettman called them the "rules of engagement."

Rules of engagement such as a duel or knights at a joust. There's always room in hockey for some of that good, clean fun.

Does that sound like someone getting ready to do anything about fighting in the near future?

This is a league that didn't mandate helmets until 1979. It was a quick response to the death of Bill Masterton, who died when he hit his head on the ice in 1968, the usual pace it takes to institute changes.

The Ontario Hockey League came oh so close to actually getting the job done. Commissioner David Branch spearheaded the new helmet rule that is supposed to prevent players from removing their, or their opponent's, helmet during a fight. Misconducts and suspensions are to be assessed and fights to be broken up immediately if helmets come off.

It puts added pressure on the referees and linesmen to make those decisions.

Wouldn't it have been smarter to simply acknowledge fights happen and if they do, the players will be thrown out of the game and handed a one-game suspension?

You can keep your stupid fights but penalize the players so it's no longer feasible to do it on a regular basis.

The bottom line right now remains the same though . . . have all the symposiums you want, but words aren't going to change anything.

It's going to take another black eye to get the point across.

POLL POINTS AWAY FROM FIGHTING

A slim majority of Canadians believe NHL fights should be banished to the penalty box -- for good -- a new poll suggests.

A CP Harris-Decima survey conducted during the NHL all-star weekend indicates 54 per cent of Canadians think fighting should be ousted from the league. Forty per cent believe it should remain.

But the same question posed to the most passionate NHL fans revealed that 68 per cent think players should continue to duke it out. The poll indicated that only 30 per cent of people who follow the NHL closely say the league should eliminate fisticuffs from the game.

The telephone survey of just more than 1,000 people was conducted between last Thursday and Sunday and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


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